Pile of Bones

Spring Azure

Spring Azure

On May 10th I spent some time in the west end and had a fantastic day, adding 18 birds to my year list. I started the morning with a quick visit to the Eagleson storm water ponds, hoping to find some warblers lurking in the trees; instead I heard a couple of White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, a single Swamp Sparrow, a single Chipping Sparrow, and the usual blackbirds and Song Sparrows. The best birds of my visit were a Killdeer investigating the large expanse of dirt where a new block of houses will soon be built, the Barn Swallows flitting beneath the bridge, and two Common Terns catching fish. The terns are a new species for this location.

From there I decided to spend some time along March Valley Road, where there are usually some ponds that attract dabbling ducks and watery fields that attract shorebirds. Last year I was lucky enough to spot a couple of Northern Shovelers, Dunlin, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, and single White-rumped Sandpiper in May. I was hoping for a similar experience this year and was not disappointed.

I was driving with the windows down and stopped when I heard a number of birds singing. I got out of the car and started walking along the road, listening to my first Common Yellowthroats and Yellow Warblers of the year. I also saw my first Rose-breasted Grosbeak – a female – and Blue-headed Vireo in the same area. A pair of Eastern Kingbirds were chasing each other and hawking for insects; I was able to get quite close to one of them.

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

A little further along I stopped by a mucky field covered in puddles; I saw a pair of Gadwalls hanging out near a large puddle with some Canada Geese and several shorebirds scurrying along the wet areas! The three Killdeer weren’t unexpected, but a Least Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, and Solitary Sandpiper were all new for the year. I also heard a Wilson’s Snipe keening in the wet area on the other side of the fence where the large pond on Klondike used to be.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

In the new pond beside Klondike Road I saw three Hooded Mergansers diving for fish; I heard my first Baltimore Oriole and Great Crested Flycatcher of the year close by. Altogether I tallied 32 species along March Valley Road – more than the number of species I’d seen there in all of 2013 despite a productive visit near the end of May.

I followed that wonderful visit with a stop at Shirley’s Bay where I found 35 species – including seven warblers! My visit got off to a good start when a pair of Ospreys flew right over the boat launch toward the river….

Osprey

Osprey

…and I found a Snowshoe Hare in the scrubby area behind the picnic shelter. This was one of two Snowshoe Hares I saw that day, both of which still had remnants of their snowy white pelage.

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare

An Eastern Phoebe near the boat launch was one of three flycatcher species I found there; I also saw a Great Crested Flycatcher and heard a Least Flycatcher.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

The warbler-watching was fantastic. As I wandered the area between the river and the Hilda Road feeders I got great looks at a Northern Parula and a stunning Blackburnian Warbler, came across a group of Palm Warblers foraging on the ground with a Field Sparrow, and counted at least two Black-and-white Warblers, five Yellow Warblers, and three American Redstarts, all of which were new for the year (except the Field Sparrow)!

American Redstart

American Redstart

Dozens of Cedar Waxwings had descended on the area, which made it challenging to locate different species whenever I saw something moving in the shrubs. Gray Catbirds and House Wrens had both returned, and I finally got a decent photo of a Brown Thrasher. I was edging around a shrub to get an unobstructed view when all of a sudden the Brown Thrasher darted into the tangle of shrubs. I thought I had spooked him; then I saw a falcon fly by – the resident Merlin? – and realized what had caused the thrasher to flee. I wasn’t able to relocate the falcon to find out what it was.

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

On my way home I stopped in at Sarsparilla Trail. In the parking lot I found a Chipping Sparrow and heard a Purple Finch singing. The Chipping Sparrow posed nicely on a rock for me; usually I photograph them at my feeder, so it was nice getting one in a more natural setting!

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

I heard a Yellow-rumped Warbler and a vireo (possibly a Blue-headed Vireo) singing in the conifers beyond the parking lot. I followed a small trail into the woods, and that’s when I saw it: a pile of animal bones scattered about in the middle of the trail.

Animal Bones

Animal Bones

It was kind of creepy but kind of neat. The animal looked larger than the red squirrels that call Stony Swamp home, and probably larger that the an Eastern Gray Squirrel; I wasn’t sure if it was a rabbit or even a skunk. The skull was not intact, making it difficult to confirm that it was even a rodent (the teeth are usually a dead giveaway…no pun intended).

Animal Bones

There did appear to be some fur close to the pelvis. It looks to me as though the animal died here, perhaps in the late summer or fall, and was left to decompose over the winter. My guess is that scavengers scattered the bones, rather than a predator feeding on the animal. I would love to hear what my learned naturalist friends think about this find!

Animal Bones

I didn’t see much at Sarsaparilla; I heard a Golden-crowned Kinglet, a Great Crested Flycatcher, and some Swamp Sparrows singing by the pond. On the other hand, I did get a nice photo of a female Red-winged Blackbird on the boardwalk:

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

I also managed to photograph a Spring Azure in the woods. These little blue butterflies are one of the first butterflies to emerge in the spring.

Spring Azure

Spring Azure

I had a great day with a wonderful variety of species and a little bit of mystery. After enjoying all the colourful songbirds and shorebirds, butterflies and Snowshoe Hares, I was reminded that even in life there is death, and that watching nature isn’t just about the beautiful and the heartwarming moments.

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2 thoughts on “Pile of Bones

  1. That is a great day. If memory serves, maybe one of your best? The Brown Thrasher looks a bit crazed. I like the Eastern Kingbird photo in the natural setting. Kingbirds here are usually sitting on wires.

    • Thanks Jason! I have so many “best days ever” that it’s hard to pick just one or two. But yes, that was an awesome day!

      We don’t see kingbirds on wires as much around Ottawa, perhaps because the city buries many of its telephone wires in new subdivisions. Eastern Kingbirds like nesting near water, so I am more likely to see them on dead trees, or on fences next to the road in suitable habitat.

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